Francois Hollande faces bleak future after week of body blows

French President Francois Hollande knew his September would be bad, but he surely cannot have imagined it this bad.

Paris: French President Francois Hollande knew his September would be bad, but he surely cannot have imagined it this bad.

Record lows in the opinion polls, record highs in the jobless lines and then what the French press called the "killer blow" -- the vengeful memoirs of his former partner Valerie Trierweiler, who painted him as cold, callous and contemptuous.

"How long will the President of the Republic hang on? The question is a legitimate one," asked centre-right daily Le Figaro, no friend of the Socialist leader.

"There is a feeling that we are gradually moving towards the moment where Francois Hollande is totally paralysed ... when that day comes, we should give the decision back to the electorate, one way or the other," added the daily.

Hollande`s loyal Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned before France departed on its long summer holiday that the "rentree" -- the return from the beach -- would be "difficult", but few could have seen the political, economic and personal body blows the president would have to endure.

The first shock came completely out of the blue. One August Monday, the government suddenly resigned after a weekend of sniping about its economic policy from a minister who is a figurehead on the left flank of the ruling Socialist Party.

There followed an emergency reshuffle seen as a bid to revive Hollande`s fortunes but even this fell by the wayside as just a week afterwards, the newly appointed trade minister was forced to resign over irregularities in his tax affairs.

Then came a double whammy of bad economic news. The national statistics office said the French economy had been flatlining for the past two quarters. A few days later, more bad tidings from the job market as unemployment hit new record highs.

Then came Trierweiler`s book -- another bolt from the blue.

Written and published in the utmost secrecy, the memoir exploded on France with salacious details of a passionate affair, a tumultuous and acrimonious break-up and a power-crazed head of state.

But one punch landed harder than most -- Hollande`s apparent contempt for the poor she said he called the "toothless" -- a devastating blow for a president who set himself up as the "normal" leader, in contrast to his "bling bling" predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Unsurprisingly, the torrent of disastrous news has taken its toll on his popularity -- already at record lows.

A TNS Sofres poll released on Thursday and conducted even before the Trierweiler bombshell showed his approval ratings at 13 percent.

Only one percent of French people said they had "total confidence" in Hollande "to resolve the problems France is currently facing."

"His popularity is now so low, it`s difficult to see how it can get worse," political analyst Philippe Braud told AFP.

However, he added: "I think he will stay president until 2017 (the next presidential elections). Unless, of course, parliament is dissolved."Exactly that possibility looms for the embattled president as the government will on September 16 present its work programme to a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament.

Experts believe the vote will pass despite grumblings from a rebellious left-wing of the Socialist Party but the vote is bound to expose further splits.

Losing the vote would be "catastrophic", almost certainly prompt fresh elections and could further boost the position of the far-right National Front, explained Braud, adding that Socialist MPs would likely toe the line for this reason.

Internationally, the next few months will see a host of European summits aimed at pepping up the moribund eurozone economy where Hollande will again come up against a steadfast German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he seeks to push through a more pro-growth agenda.

That`s to say nothing of the host of international crises ranging from Iraq to Ukraine that will keep world leaders busy for the foreseeable future.

And in the political wings waits Sarkozy, biding his time for a likely return to French politics.

"I think Francois Hollande has become a scapegoat. He knows that in 2017, he will not be a credible candidate and he can only lose," Braud said.

Sarkozy`s expected return "will not change much, because Francois Hollande would be beaten by any opposition candidate."

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